LISTFUL THINKING: Top 10 of 2014 (The Self-Aware One)

31 12 2014

Boyhood stillAnother year gone by, and what an odd and largely unremarkable one (at least for me).  That’s not to say, however, that there were not plenty of good movies to see.  Between two years – this and last – packed with film festivals as well as a summer living in Los Angels, I have racked up a shamefully high film count for 2014.

The final tally: 154.  That’s a gain of over 50% from just two years ago.  And, mind you, I still have many left to see, although only “Selma” and “American Sniper” would likely have ended up on this list.  Impressively, I have actually managed to review all of them (including one for “A Most Violent Year” which irksomely has to be held another month).

I usually try to tie my year-end top 10 list around a theme or a unifying idea, and this year is no different.  At the beginning of the month, my films were essentially set (sadly), but I could not for the life of me find a correlation or angle.  Then, I read a rather snarky piece by Anne Thompson of IndieWire called “How to Make a Ten Best List in Five Easy Steps.”

Thompson is a highly regarded entertainment reporter, and I value her insight on industry news that provides more thorough coverage than the click-bait titles.  At times, though, I find her writing contains a certain aura of superiority that verges on haughtiness.  In this reductionist list, which I believe is meant to be in jest to some degree, here are some of her suggestions for top 10 building:

“1. Include a selection of brainy consensus critical faves of the sort that are likely to be Oscar contenders.

2. Add a few popular hits as well to show that you click with the mainstream.

3. Add at least one wild blue yonder arcane title, either foreign or up-and-coming indie, that will leave readers scratching their heads, impressed with your erudition. This proves that you saw way more movies than they did.”

Pike Affleck Gone GirlI dismissed the piece at first, and then I told myself that such blind herd mentality was something to which I was not susceptible.  I don’t normally drink the Kool-Aid and tow the critics/bloggers party line – I picked “Win Win” and “The Queen of Versailles” as my favorites of their respective years, for heaven’s sake!

Yet I could not shake Thompson’s piece off, for whatever reason.  I kept thinking about it and realized that my top picks for the year might not match up with a ton of external validators, but they did meet a certain set of internal criteria.  As it turns out, I do have a couple of favorite “types” that rear their heads in my annual top 10 list.  These are not necessarily genres or styles of filmmaking so much as they are experiences.

So, without further ado, my extremely self-aware top 10 films of 2014.  I hope no one is incredibly offended by me reducing these films to merely what they meant to me, but if you want to read a pure assessment of their merits, click on the title to be taken to my original review.

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REVIEW: Nightcrawler

2 11 2014

NightcrawlerThese days, it seems like a lot to ask for a movie to seriously tackle one topic with the requisite depth to provide satisfaction.  On that criterion, “Nightcrawler” more than succeeds with its blistering critique of the media.  Writer/director Dan Gilroy takes our present “if it bleeds, it leads” local news culture and absolutely skewers it, exposing the obvious immorality caused by its hunger for profits and ratings.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom quickly moves from amateur to aesthete in his documentation of Los Angeles’ grisly, gory violence.  With each new recording, he learns how to best appeal to Nina Romina, Rene Russo’s particularly desperate station manager at KWLA.  She seeks footage akin to “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut” in order to jolt the station’s jittery suburbanite watchers, and Lou is eager to provide that material irrespective of any sense of ethics or decency.

This savage criticism alone would satisfy, yet shockingly, Gilroy is not satisfied with setting his aim on just that target.  Somehow, he manages to use “Nightcrawler” as a vessel for exploring a second major topic: extreme careerism.  The media is also a business where it takes more than whetting a certain appetite to advance oneself.  More than talent, it requires the marketing of oneself to a point where the line between self-promotion and shameless whoring disappears.

Though this Juvenalian satire happens to be moored to an excoriation of broadcast media, “Nightcrawler” could really be about anybody searching for lucrative employment in the business world today.  Gilroy writes Lou Bloom as the desperate post-recessional job seeker followed logically (and sociopathically) into absurdity.  Essentially, he gives us a Joel Osteen for the religion of capitalism, preaching the gospel according to LinkedIn.

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